All about lace: fascination and delicacy

"I have only a nosegay of culled flowers and have brought nothing but the thread that ties them together." - Montaigne

Lace has always been an ornamental object of fascination and a temple to delicacy. Nowadays we associate lace with femininity and greatly with anything bridal, but was it always this way? 

Some history of lace (it's not boring, I promise).

Lace as we know it was first developed in Europe during the fifteenth century. It's impressive, because it began simultaneously in Venise and Flanders, but the lace makers of these two very different regions did not have contact between them! Lace thread was typically made from linen, and later silk or metallic gold threads, followed by cotton in the nineteenth century. 

For so long, lace was a privilege of the rich (aristocrats, with a French "rr"). Kings and queens were spending enormous amounts of money to get their hands on Venitian and Flemish lace. At some point, Louis XIV (le roi soleil) decided to bring the produce of lace in France so that the money would remain in the country. Smart, right? So the king brought Venetian lace makers to Normandy where Arleçon lace was born. Eventually, lace making centers spread all over France (Lyon, Chantilly, Calais, Puy, Valencienne, d'Argentan, Sedan and so on) and France became very well known for its lace. 

The French Revolution led to the destruction of the French court and its luxury industries. At this time, lace was too much associated with the careless extravagance of the aristocracy, some of whom were losing their famously coiffed heads at the guillotine. Indeed, some of the craftspeople were also executed for their service to the now-despised nobility.

Further, the Industrial Revolution supported the development of new laces in the nineteenth century. By the mid-1800s, machine and handmade laces were often combined into such forms as bobbin appliqué on machine-made net, and a variety of patterned machine laces became available. Though, no longer exclusive, lace became extremely popular. Nowadays, industrial lace production has made it possible to find garments decorated with lace at very affordable prices. 

Was lace always considered a feminine element in garments?

NOPE. Both men and women wore lace from its inception to the eighteenth centuries. It was often the most costly part of dress and reflected the sophisticated tastes of the aristocracy. At the time, lace was not about gender, it was about status as wealth. Here is a photo of a painting of King Charles I rocking a lace collar. i personally love it.


Techniques of lace making

There are two techniques of producing lace (manually).

The first method is known as needle lace. Needle lace is made using a single needle and thread by making stitches one after another which gradually build up a fabric. It is a technique developed in the 15th century in Venise, at the time known as Punto in Aria (read this out loud to feel glamorous). Here are some famous examples of needle lace.

1. French Point de Venise 

One of the first laces to have been created. It's most distinctive pattern: the raised lace, as shown in the photo below. The 3d dimensional feature was created by outlining the design with a cordonnet, a heavier thread, bundle of threads, or horsehair. 
point de venise venitian lace needle lace
Gros Point de Venise lace, 1651-1675. Textilmuseum St. Gallen, Switzerland

2. Arleçon Lace

Known also as Point d’Alençon, it is the first lace ever created in France. Alençon lace is one of the most popular forms of lace on the market today, especially for bridal gowns. The lace is characterized by  floral motifs created on a light mesh ground.
Did you know? It takes eight years of training to master the Point d’Alençon technique and 25 hours of labour to produce a finished piece of Alençon lace the size of a French postage stamp (2.5cm by 2cm, less than a square inch)*. 
Source: Laurel Leaf Farm

The second technique of lace making is bobbin lace. Bobbin lace uses many threads attached to small bobbins, which are interwoven in various combinations to create a pattern. It was this method that inspired the first machines of lace making. 

Source: Pinterest

1. Brussels Lace

Also known as Point d'Angleterre (some smuggling story), Brussels Lace is a famous type of bobbin lace. What is very interesting about this lace was the method used to make it. Each worker was responsible for a specific portion of a larger whole and no one person was skilled in creating the entire finished piece, which made the secrets of Belgian lace much harder to spread to other regions. 

Source: Met Museum

2. Valencienne lace 

Also a well-known bobbin type lace, made of net and the pattern. It was not considered a prestigious lace and was used mostly for linens. 
Souce: Wikimedia Commons

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you love lace, you may find garments from the late 19th century and 20th century ornamented with French lace in the shop